The house that built us

The house I grew up in in LaGrange, Georgia, built in 1963, was a masterpiece of collective dreams.

Miranda Lambert, Allen Shamblin, and Tom Douglas collaborated on a Billboard #1 country song in 2010. “The House That Built Me” includes these lyrics:

“Mama cut out pictures of houses for years,
From the “Better Homes and Garden” magazine.
Plans were drawn, and concrete poured,
And nail by nail and board by board
Daddy gave life to Mama’s dream” ….

“Hi, Mama, what are you doing?” I asked as I walked in from elementary school.

“Cutting out my pictures,” she replied.

“Can I help?” I asked as I sat down on the floor beside her.

An old cardboard box held Mama’s dreams, so I knew it was important to trim the magazine clippings precisely in case she needed to select that perfect dream one day.

The bin held pictures of numerous houses and ideas for their imaginary rooms. Mama saved each one, hoping she might find a place to implement this or that one day.

My parents lived during the Great Depression. When they married in 1939, my dad borrowed money from the bank to buy a Chevy. He quickly realized he couldn’t repay the loan on time, so he returned the car to the bank. Dad never borrowed money again.

When I was young, we moved often and rented many homes, but we finally settled in McMinnville, Tennessee, for a while. Daddy’s career flourished as he worked and toiled while Mama diligently saved the money.

Mom’s father and most of my family worked in or owned lumber mills in the Tennessee hills. I used to think sawdust ran in all their veins.

Many years before Mama had a box, Granddaddy found an area full of butternut trees in those mountains.  From these rare white walnut trees, he planed enough timber for each of his three children to use if they ever built their dream home.

The day came when Mama cut out a picture of a house from Better Homes and Gardens magazine. For years, that clipping remained at the top of the pile.

In my brother’s room, there was a drafting table that had been there long before he left for Georgia Tech. However, it was no surprise that he would become an engineer someday.

After over twenty years of unwavering determination and careful saving, Mama finally ordered her blueprints from Better Homes and Gardens. Once the plans arrived, Mom and John typically spent most evenings amending and redrawing them under the drafting lamp. The dream was now on the table, a testament to their resolve and hope.

In the early spring of 1962, house framing rose from the earth, and the roof was added. Mama poured through her box of ideas and started refinishing the antiques she had acquired for years.

Granddaddy dusted off and waxed the old white walnut. John started gathering parts to make light fixtures. Daddy looked through lumber for the finest oak floors and beams for the ceilings.

When we relocated to Georgia, the house was still under construction. I’m unsure how Mama felt, but I imagine it was heartbreaking. Abandoning the dream that was almost a reality must have been a difficult and painful decision for my parents.

We left McMinnville with Daddy’s promise to Mama that he would rebuild the home for her. Granddaddy stored the wood, and John boxed his collection of pieces and parts.

Mama’s ideas and hopes were again boxed and put away.

Two years later, a moving van pulled into the driveway of our new home, which was built on a lot around an S curve in LaGrange, Georgia. Mama devoted hours daily overseeing the dream’s construction and paid cash for every nail.

My brother found an exquisite old billiard table in Tennessee crafted from solid walnut and leather pockets to fill the basement rec room.

Finally, we moved into Mama’s dream. Grandaddy’s walnut framed the fireplace in the living room and below a chair rail in the dining room.

The house was a masterpiece of collective dreams, with every detail carefully chosen and lovingly crafted.

Beams adorned the ceilings, where light fixtures repurposed from old gas lanterns and John’s bits and pieces hung above gleaming hand-waxed floors.

Mom’s dream box now only contained a magazine article and photos from the Atlanta paper about Elizabeth Walker’s stunningly simple, detailed home.

My family lived in the house for eight years. It was often filled with teenagers and parties, laughter, and joy. The antique pool table came alive with the sounds of clinking balls scattering across its slate.

By 1972, we had all moved away from the town in Georgia where Mama’s dream stood among the pines on a winding street.

My brother, John, was diagnosed with terminal cancer twenty-four years later. He had settled back in Tennessee but found himself one day in front of the old house in LaGrange.

He knocked on the door. After telling the current owner who he was, John was welcomed in.

To his surprise, the house was almost as it was before he left. The light fixtures remained the same. Granddaddy’s cherished wood magnificently beamed, and the pool table still beckoned folks to play.

John smiled as he recalled the times he and Mom worked at the drafting table, planning a dream to turn into reality. He was thankful that he was given those moments to return to such an accomplishment one last time.

Before my mother passed away, she wanted me to drive her to LaGrange, which she had not visited in over 35 years. We went around the S curve, and I stopped the car as she studied the home that once resided only in a box.

“Would you like me to ask the owner if we can come in?” I gently whispered.

“No, I know what it looks like,” she responded with a twinkle in her eye.

We all have dreams we wish to come true. They usually do if we have abundant perseverance, love, and support.

Just like the house that Mama built…that built us.


Lynn Walker Gendusa is a Georgia author and columnist whose latest book, “Southern Comfort: Stories of Family, Friendship, Fiery Trials, and Faith,” is available on Amazon. For more of Lynn’s inspirational stories, click here.

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